Wed, Jan 26, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Guantanamo Bay suspects held mass suicide attempt

AP , SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Twenty-three terror suspects tried to hang or strangle themselves during a weeklong protest orchestrated in 2003 to disrupt operations and unnerve new guards at the US military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the US military said Monday.

Officials hadn't previously reported the incidents, which the military called "self-injurious behavior" aimed at getting attention rather than serious suicide attempts.

The coordinated attempts were among 350 "self-harm" incidents that year, including 120 "hanging gestures," according to Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, a detention mission spokesman.

In the protest, from Aug. 18 to Aug. 26, 2003, nearly two dozen prisoners tried to hang or strangle themselves, demonstrating "self-injurious behavior," the US Southern Command in Miami said. Ten detainees tried on Aug. 22 alone.

Last year, there were 110 self-harm incidents, Sumpter said.

It was unclear how the protest was planned. The prisoners were in steel mesh cells and able to talk to their neighbors, but guards monitor cell activity. They also exercise alone.

Only two of the 23 were considered suicide attempts -- requiring hospitalization and psychiatric treatment. Officials said they differentiated between attempts in which they considered a detainee could die without intervention and a "gesture" aimed at getting attention.

Sixteen of the 23 remain at Guantanamo; seven have been transferred to other countries.

The military has reported 34 suicide attempts since the camp opened in January 2002, including one prisoner who went into a coma and has sustained memory loss from brain damage.

Last year protest came as the camp suffered a rash of suicide attempts after Major General Geoffrey Miller took command with a mandate to get more information from the prisoners, accused of links to al-Qaeda or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime, which had sheltered Osama bin Laden.

Critics linked the two and criticized the delay in reporting.

"When you have suicide attempts or so-called self-harm incidents, it shows the type of impact indefinite detention can have, but it also points to the extreme measures the Pentagon is taking to cover up things that have happened in Guantanamo," said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International in Washington.

Many of the 558 prisoners have been held for more than three years without charge.

The latest report comes amid recently revealed abuse allegations and mistreatment, much of which allegedly occurred under Miller.

In a letter obtained by reporters, a senior Justice Department official suggested the Pentagon didn't act on FBI complaints about four incidents: a female interrogator grabbing a detainee's genitals and bending back his thumbs; a prisoner whose head was covered with duct tape; and two incidents in which a dog was used to intimidate a prison who later was held in isolation until he showed signs of "extreme psychological trauma."

Other information of alleged abuses has come through Freedom of Information Act requests from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said Monday that some included Navy e-mails dated August 2003 -- the month of the mass protest -- asking what should be done if a detainee dies.

One message asks if remains should be sent for an autopsy to Germany or the US Dover Air Force Base.

"Personally, I suspect that remains should probably NOT be brought to the US for legal reasons," says the response. Names were redacted from the messages, among thousands of documents provided to the ACLU only after a court order.

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